His next step: Tonganoxie High AD looking to start new chapter in Peru
Brandon Mellen’s vision when he took over as Tonganoxie High’s athletics and activities director was to help move THS forward.
Teams recorded various firsts and reached new heights for their prospective programs during Mellen’s three years in Tonganoxie.
He credited top-notch coaches and student-athletes for teams making all of those headlines.
“It’s easy when you have a lot of good people in great places,” Mellen said. “My role was to support them.”
Mellen now will look to assist more coaches and student-athletes in a new place — in another country.
Mellen accepted a job at an American high school in Lima, Peru, named after Franklin Delanor Roosevelt.
“It’s almost like a college prep school,” Mellen said.
In the process of transitioning to a new position, Mellen now waits to see when he might be able to start at his new gig.
“It may look a little different in the beginning,” he said.
Pandemic restrictions likely will determine how the outgoing THS AD and assistant principal might start a new chapter. He officially finishes up duties at THS June 30.
Tonganoxie experienced notable successes the past three years:
• Boys wrestling nabbed its first individual title in program history in 2019 and added a second a few matches later at the state championships in Salina. The Chieftains followed up with two more individual state titles this past February and finished fourth overall, the program’s highest team finish.
• Girls wrestling had a state placer in its first year of existence.
• Boys cross country won league titles all three seasons and placed third at state in Class 4A the past two seasons.
• Football had its best season in school history this past fall with a 10-1 record and co-champions status in the Frontier League THS also posted an undefeated regular season in 2017 and won the final Kaw Valley League title.
• Softball placed third at state in 2018, marking the program’s best finish at state.
• Baseball earned back-to-back state trips in 2018 and 2019. The Chieftains knocked off top-ranked Paola in the quarterfinals in 2018 and eventually placed fourth. A soggy 2019 state tournament created postponements and even a venue change.
• Boys golf has made three straight state appearances.
• Girls golf went from new program to state qualifier in three seasons. THS won its regional this past October on its way to the program’s first state appearance.
• Boys soccer won the final KVL title in 2017 on its way to an undefeated regular season.
• Track added more state titles to its growing list with LeeRoi Johnson nabbing his second straight state discus title in 2018 and then Cole Sample winning the shot put title in 2019. Sample was a favorite to repeat this past weekend before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of spring sports.
• Boys basketball made strides by reaching the substate finals the past two seasons.
Tonganoxie High also moved from the Kaw Valley League to the Frontier League during that time.
Mellen said Tonganoxie’s recent success happened because of team efforts, including contributions from the community. Fundraising, for instance, that made installing artificial turf at Beatty Field a reality.
“We had just a hard-working group of blue-collar kids that like each other and like to compete,” Mellen said.
A 1995 Fredonia High School grad, Mellen played basketball at Emporia State, coached college basketball at Fort Scott CC and Baker University, served as a “ball boy” on the sideline for Kansas football games in Lawrence and officiated high school basketball. He also taught 14 years at South Middle School in Lawrence before coming to THS. He was an assistant at BU while he taught in Lawrence.
The opportunity in Peru came about after casual conversations with his older brother, who has been teaching about 20 years in Hong Kong, and his niece, who is in her first year of working as a school counselor in Brazil. He knew of current Free State girls basketball coach also spending time coaching boys and girls basketball coach at a school in Muscat, Oman, in the Middle East.
“It just kind of piqued the interest and all of the sudden my name got on a list and I got a call from FDR because their current activities director took a job in Bangkok,” Mellen said.
Athletics and other activities are more year-round in Peru as opposed to the seasonal structure in the United States.
Mellen will oversee activities for students in grades K-12 at FDR.
The English-speaking school also has some Spanish-speaking coaches in its soccer ranks with about 1,800 student enrolled in the school system.
About 60 percent of the students are Peruvian, 30 percent American and the remaining 10 percent from other countries from across the globe.
There are 90 coaches in the schools, including 15 overseeing the boys and girls soccer teams.
Teams compete in two local leagues in Lima (to play weekly games throughout the year) and culminate in South American Athletic Conference tournaments each year. These SAAC events occurs every year for each sport including basketball, soccer, volleyball, swimming, track and the arts. The SAAC Conference includes other South American Schools in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Ecuador.
About 90-95 percent of the students compete in extra-curricular activities at FDR, Mellen said.
It will be a change from northeast Kansas, but Mellen has cherished his time at THS.
“It made my job easier when good people already are in place and it’s my job to support them and build trust and see what I could do to take another step forward,” he said.
Mellen officially concludes his stint at THS at the end of the month, with new AD Cody Witte starting July 1. The two have had discussions as Witte prepares to take over in Tonganoxie.
“I think he’s going to be a really good hire,” Mellen said. I think he’ll be able to move it forward another step after me.”